Jingū at Isë is one of the most important jinja in Shinto, and is actually a complex of 125 jinja. Of these, two are of central importance: Kōtajingū, generally known as the Naikū, or Inner Sanctuary, which enshrines Amaterasu Ōmikami, and Toyoükë Daijingū, known as the Gekū, or outer sanctuary, which enshrines Toyoükë Ōmikami, a kami of food and daily life who serves Amaterasu Ōmikami. Most of the matsuri at Jingū are actually performed at the Gekū, and although the most important rituals are performed at both, they are performed at the Gekū first. (There is one significant annual exception, the Kanmisosai, which is only performed at the Naikū, and the Grand Renewal of the Naikū happens a couple of days before that of the Gekū.) It is also common practice for people visiting Jingū to visit the Gekū first, and then the Naikū, although I am not sure how many people still follow that rule today.
Jingū is very closely associated with the Tennō. It enshrines Amaterasu Ōmikami as the ancestor of the Tennō, and in the early days only the Tennō was allowed to send offerings to it. However, Meiji Tennō, who presided over Japan’s opening to the world and modernisation in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, seems to have had a particularly strong feeling for it, based on a couple of stories I have come across in my reading.
During the Meiji Period, a lot of changes were made to Shinto practices to make it fit better into the bureaucracy of a nineteenth-century state. Jingū was not excluded from this, and at one point the bureaucracy planned to move Jingū to Tokyo, rebuild it in reinforced concrete, and abolish the Shikinen Sengū (the Grand Renewal held every twenty years). As was normal for government initiatives in the period, this was put before Meiji Tennō, and he vetoed it in sufficiently strong terms that the plan was simply stopped completely. He said that it was important to preserve the traditions of Jingū, including its construction and the Shikinen Sengū, which did not leave any room for a compromise.
The other concerns one of his visits to Jingū. Meiji Tennō was, as far as we know, the first Tennō to visit Jingū in person, and he went more than once. On one of these occasions, in 1905, the person in charge in the Imperial Household Ministry put together a plan in which the Tennō would first visit the Naikū, and then, on the following day, visit the Gekū. This plan was also sent to the Tennō for his approval, but he sent it back, saying that the tradition should be respected, and that he could not approve this order.
This caused significant problems, because an Imperial visit at this period was a major event, requiring a lot of advance preparation, and making such a major change would be very difficult. However, they could do nothing without the Tennō’s approval, so the Minister for the Imperial Household went to the Tennō in person to make his case. However, Meiji Tennō would not be moved.
Visits to Jingū are among the most important events of my life. If anything were to go wrong during this visit of reverence, there would be no way to make things right. While it is certainly true that the Naikū and Gekū enshrine equally honourable kami, nevertheless it is somehow easier to pay one’s respects at the Gekū. I am really not comfortable going straight to the Naikū at the beginning. I think that, if I first visit the Gekū to calm my heart and quiet my spirit, I will be more able to visit the Naikū without raising any problems.
Faced with this, the minister had nothing to say, and the plans were rearranged to follow tradition.
(As is so often the case, this is partly based on an article in Jinja Shinpō, for September 3rd.)